Two years ago, South Sudanese lawyer Dong Samuel Luak disappeared off the streets of Nairobi, Kenya. I recently sat with Kur Lual, Dong’s law partner, in South Sudan’s capital, Juba. Holding his head in his hands, he asked me, “How does someone like Dong disappear just like that?” It’s a question many others inside and outside of South Sudan are still asking themselves.
Dong fled South Sudan in August 2013, but continued to denounce human rights abuses and corruption there from his new home in Nairobi. Just one day after his disappearance on January 23, 2017, a South Sudanese government critic and political opposition member, Aggrey Ezbon Idri, also went missing in Nairobi.
The Kenyan government denied having both Dong and Aggrey in custody despite reports from their families that they were being held by the police and awaiting deportation. Meanwhile, other reports indicate that by January 25, the two were already being held by South Sudan’s National Security Service (NSS), forces known to commit abuses including unlawful detentions and torture. A Kenyan court ordered the police to investigate the disappearance of the two, but questions about how they disappeared, who was responsible for their abduction, and how they got into South Sudan remain unanswered.
The families of the two men and various domestic and international organizations have repeatedly called on South Sudan’s government to reveal their fate and whereabouts and have pressed Kenya to investigate the disappearances. But nothing new has surfaced, prolonging the suffering of their families.
Human Rights Watch continues to receive credible information from witnesses that the two men were in NSS custody between January 25-28, 2017 and thereafter moved to an unknown location. In late 2018, a former detainee, William Endley, told the media he, too, had seen Dong and Aggrey at NSS headquarters. But South Sudan’s government has remained silent.
By failing to disclose the fate and whereabouts of Dong and Aggrey or launch an independent investigation into reports of their presence in South Sudan, or even attempt to support the court mandated police investigation in Kenya – the South Sudanese government is derelict in its duty to ensure the rights and welfare of its citizens at home and abroad.
South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit should do right by the families of Dong and Aggrey and uphold his government’s human rights obligations. He should start by ordering an effective investigation into the two disappearances, as well as the many others who have been reported forcibly disappeared with the involvement of South Sudanese agents. Kenyan authorities should also ensure that that its ongoing investigation into these disappearances is impartial, effective, and transparent.